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At halfway house, Gilbert Arenas will have a roommate and chores but no cable TV in his room

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010; B02

When Gilbert Arenas starts serving his 30-day sentence for a gun charge at a Montgomery County halfway house, he will walk into a 10-foot by 10-foot room with a mattress four inches shorter than he is. He'll share bunk beds with a roommate, submit to daily room inspections, three-times-daily alcohol breath tests and three-times-a-week drug tests. He will be expected to go straight to community service. No lunch with friends. No trips to the gym. Then straight back.

"Until they get here, it doesn't really set in where they are," Stefan LoBuglio, chief of what's known as the county's Pre-Release Center, said of many offenders. "They think, 'Hey, I thought this was just some place I slept at night, and come and go as I please.' "

An opening orientation and 63-page manual are designed, in part, to change that impression. Page 40: "A daily clean-up roster will be posted on each unit's bulletin board."

Arenas could have received a tougher sentence. Prosecutors had asked for at least three months in jail. At the Pre-Release Center, in the early evenings, Arenas, who pleaded guilty to a felony count of carrying a pistol without a license, will be allowed to shoot baskets and watch TV or play table tennis.

Arenas, 28, is serving his time in Montgomery County because the county has a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to take certain offenders. In Arenas's case, he was put on probation by a judge in the federally supported court system of Washington, D.C.

Federal officials chose the Montgomery facility because of its reputation as a halfway house that is run with the discipline of a prison. The facility screens visitors and can keep Arenas safe from celebrity seekers and other convicts. "It's to protect Gilbert. It's a command and control operation where nonsense will not be permitted," said a federal source with knowledge of the decision, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak about the case.

His sentence will begin with two days in the Montgomery County Detention Center in Rockville.

After big metal doors slide open, just as they do in movies, Arenas will be led down a long, sloping hallway to a reception unit. He'll provide fingerprints and a mug shot and answer a series of questions as part of his placement screening. Question No. 13: "Are you a member of a gang or terrorist organization?"

People charged with anything from shoplifting to murder could be on the benches next to him.

Then Arenas probably will board an industrial-size elevator for a ride up to a housing area for short-timers. He could share a cell, but not likely with anyone who has committed a particularly violent crime.

Montgomery officials have federal probationers spend the two days in traditional lockup to give them a taste of real confinement should they break rules down the road, as well as full medical and psychological screenings by the detention center's staff.

The officials are taking the same precautions as they would with any celebrity inmate. "High-profile prisoners are carefully watched so they can't be victimized," said Arthur Wallenstein, director of the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. "Some inmates despise anyone with money."

After the detention center, Arenas will be moved to the Pre-Release unit, a brown brick building tucked amid offices near White Flint mall.

The facility generally houses up to 177 people, whom the staff call residents rather than inmates. There is one living area for women and three for men.

There are no barbed-wire fences; residents can walk out the front door. The facility has received national attention in part because of its "sink or swim" approach to pushing residents into jobs and community service.

Most of the residents come from the Montgomery County jail. They can bring only a limited amount of clothes, which they must wash themselves. At least one of the current residents, Keith Brown, is looking forward to Arenas's arrival.

"He's a good person who made a bad choice," said Brown, taking a break from shooting baskets in the courtyard.

Will he let Arenas play hoops with him on the facility's court -- part of which is covered by a trailor? "Better not, I'll dunk on him," the 5-foot-8, 47-year-old joked.

Residents can have visitors, and they are given access to a computer room to hunt for jobs. But Internet surfing, Facebooking and Tweeting are forbidden.

Residents cannot have cellphones, laptops, video games or portable DVD players in their rooms. They can bring their own TV, no bigger than 13 inches, but they can't have cable.

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